Tap master Savion Glover to perform Sunday at the Mahaiwe
GREAT BARRINGTON — Savion Glover's shoes demand audiences' attention. During performances, they jab and stomp and slide, their toes and heels meeting the floor at rapid clips to generate enrapturing rhythms. But to understand why Glover is often called the greatest tap dancer in the world, admirers should occasionally shift their focus due north, to the man's ears, between which a synesthetic perspective presides.
"I can see sound differently than others," Glover told The Eagle during a phone interview.
It's only in the last handful of years that the 45-year-old has recognized his hearing's power, his ability to perceive the sonic in the silent.
"I see personality in things, and I see the sound that it can make if it had a voice, like a sidewalk or a piece of grass or a microphone," he said.
When he improvises, as he will on Sunday night with the percussion group OUT'KNiGHTz at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, Glover won't announce his inspirations to the audience, preferring instead to let his freestyling feet take the audience "on a visual journey, a visual navigation, a visual story received through sound."
"Whatever the story we are telling, I want the audience to come away with their own version of the story," Glover said.
The dancer was calling after a rehearsal for a production of "The Tap Dance Kid" that will be staged at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center this September. Glover, a Newark native, is directing a youthful cast.
"Overall, it's just really beautiful," he said of the experience. "Sometimes, already, man, I feel like [Robert] De Niro in 'Analyze This' when he starts to cry. I'm sitting in my director's chair, and after a scene is done, I find myself with tears in my eyes."
Nostalgia may be contributing to that emotion. In the mid-1980s, Glover starred in the Broadway musical before he had even turned 12, a big break that led to a role in, among other Broadway works, "Jelly's Last Jam." Renowned tap dancer Gregory Hines was one of that musical's choreographers and an early influence on Glover's improvisation.
"I can't say that I was encouraged to do improvisation, but I was encouraged to use the tool of improvisation versus choreography," Glover recalled. "My mentors and teachers and educators, people like Jimmy Slyde and Lon Chaney and Chuck Green and Gregory Hines, these men, they didn't take me into a studio and teach me routines and things like that. The teachings came from instincts. They came from haphazard results. They came from improvisational moments."
Glover's mentors encouraged him to express himself through performance, which, for Glover, often manifests itself in improvisation.
"Improvisation is just being comfortable or confident in what you want to say and, I guess, how to know what to say and then, therefore, when to say it," he said.
But Glover, whose choreography of "Bring in 'da Noise, Bring in 'da Funk" earned him a 1996 Tony, isn't averse to more scripted shows. His frequent appearances on "Sesame Street" in the 1990s helped boost his stature, and recent dance pieces offer at least some narrative guidance.
"We just did a production, 'LaDY5 @ Savion Glover's BaROQuE'BLaK TaP CaFE,' which is a totally different direction than something like OUT'KNiGHTz, that allows for the dance, yes, for there to be storytelling, but there's more of a visual, I think, that provokes the storytelling or that lends to the storytelling," he said, "that visual being the movement, that visual being a costume and then that visual being the music that is being interpreted through the movement."
Glover has worked with OUT'KNiGHTz, which features Jalin Shiver on saxophone and Malachi J. Lewis on drums, for more than a year. He hopes that Mahaiwe spectators can revel in the music.
"Enjoy the theater," he said. "Enjoy the sound."
Benjamin Cassidy can be reached at email@example.com; at @bybencassidy on Twitter; and 413-496-6251
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